Is Boxing Coming Back To The Mainstream?

Is Boxing Coming Back To The Mainstream?
By John Dodge Updated

There have been developments in the UK and the USA in the last month that suggest, after decades of slowly removing itself from the mainsteam; boxing is back.


The biggest news from an Irish perspective was ITV announcing they would be showing Belfastman Carl Frampton's first defence of his IBF Super Bantamweight World Title.  The February 28th bout is the first from these shores to be shown live on British terrestrial TV since 2008.

That fight was the end of a 3 year deal between ITV and Frank Warren. They had renewed their boxing coverage in 2005 a decade removed from their "The Big Fight Live". Back then, boxers like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and our own Steve Collins fought in front of millions on prime time Saturday TV.

Collins v Eubank I from Millstreet in 1995 was an ITV highlight - Pic; David Maher / SPORTSFILE

When Barry Hearn and Frank Warren took their boxers to Sky Sports, ITV was left floundering and their boxing coverage was never the same.


With a host of exciting British and Irish boxers coming through the ranks, will ITV start to regularly show world title fights to a mass audience? We know they're losing all their football rights, so perhaps boxing will become a marquee sport for them once again.

In January, UPC customers here in Ireland lost ITV from their package with UTV Ireland replacing it. At time of writing there has been no word from UTV Ireland about showing this fight. Frampton, a former amateur star, has arguably a bigger following in Ireland than in Britain so many will be anxious to see these rights sorted quickly.



Developments in the US are perhaps even more startling.  More than 30 years after they last showed boxing in prime time, the giant network NBC is returning the sport to it's programming. The NY Post reports that the deal with Al Haymon boxing will see 5 Prime time shows on NBC, 6 Saturday afternoon shows on NBC and 9 prime time shows on their sports channel NBCSN.  The first two cards announced includes star names like Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson.  As ESPN reports, the major PPV channels like Showtime want to show these fights. Haymon believes it's time to bring boxing back to the masses.

Haymon is backing this new deal financially too. Usually HBO and Showtime pay promoters big money to have their fighters on their lucrative PPV cards.  Now, Haymon is paying NBC to show his promotions (called "Premier Boxing Champions" for TV purposes). The idea is that increased exposure opens up new income streams for Haymon and his boxers. It's a $20 million dollar gamble.



Since Bernard Dunne caught the attention of RTE (through his manager Brian Peters) in the late 2000s, pro-boxing has been absent from Irish terrestrial TV. It's pretty unlikely that any Irish TV station (realistically we're talking about RTE) could ever compete with the likes of ITV, Sky or even Boxnation to show any Irish boxer's title fights.  If Andy Lee is to defend his title here this summer, Irish boxing's best hope of a mass audience is for ITV to carry it.  RTE may continue to cover the very successful amateur game, but we know that coverage isn't universally praised.

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